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Twenty Years Ago We Took The Musical Voyage On Shack's H.M.S. Fable

Updated on May 3, 2019

The Record That Ended The Century With Both A Bang And A Whimper

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An Underrated Alt Rock Band Gave Us One Of The Few Musical Highlights of 1999

While the Gallaghers were engaging in frequent fraternal fisticuffs, a lesser known pair of brothers were creating music that was better than anything Oasis had done in the last half decade. Their band's name may not conjure images as alluring as Oasis, but Shack made some great records in its brief run as one of the representatives of the third British Invasion.

Michael Head was the primary writer and singer for the group, while younger John contributed several compositions on nearly each record. His best song, simply titled "Beautiful", comes from the what has endured as the band's best album from exactly twenty years ago.

H.M.S Fable was released in 1999, a follow up to Waterpistol from three years prior.
It took the alternative folk rock of that debut and enhanced the sound by adding sprinklings of brass, as well as an improved lyrical approach.

The record titled after a fictional ship very quickly became Shack's most popular album, reaching the Top Five in its British homeland. Starting out with an invitation to the revel of "Natalie's Party", H.M.S. Fable is a tight collection of well-crafted tunes accentuated by cryptic and often clever lyrics.

"When you cry it pulls me through," Michael sings on the chorus of "Comedy". That line is almost Dylan-like, as its message could be interpreted as anything from sympathetic to sly to sadistic.

While "Comedy" is really anything but humorous, "Lend's Some Dough" actually evokes a few chuckles. A destitute homeless guy finds it ironic that his friend approaches him for a loan, complaining about a sore back and an itch.

It is on "Captain's Table" where the theme of the album is best presented, comparing the ups and downs of a romance to a ship ride. "Underneath the wings of a giant dove," Head sings in the bridge. " All the time you say you're married but you're not in love."

Whether it is about Pete Rose's recent banishment from baseball or another allusion to a romance, "Reinstated" is the standout track. It is here that the trumpets and horns accentuate the conflict in the lyrics, which again address a troubled romance.

"I remember when you made me feel so good just to be near you," he recalls in the last verse. "Oh, you've let me down so much I fear you." Somehow in the course of the relationship, it has deteriorated from euphoria to fright.

The mood lightens a little with "I Want You", which references Camelot along with the postal service, the navy, and even Auntie Joan. Those details are quickly forgotten, though, when you get to what should be the ultimate love song.

"Since I Met You" on its surface is an appreciation for love, but it is much uglier underneath. A small boy picks up a plastic gun, and he is shot by a store employee. While the shooter claims to have only been aiming for the knee, we learn in the last verse that it was fatal when the sergeant says, "Jason's in Ward 3B and it's all over now."

An over anxious gunman shares the bill with an abusive romance on the H.M.S. Fable, which is kept joyously afloat by its wonderful melodies. This record has Shack combining the strengths of Oasis and REM, giving fans an idea of what the Eagles meant in their earliest hit,"I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight."

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